Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Twenty-Something Writers

Hello Rejecter,

So tell me, what's it like being a young person in a field where it seems no one is under the age of thirty-five?

By "no one" I mean authors, of course. Aside from that Harvard student who plagiarized her novel and ended up being dropped by her publisher, I haven't heard of any other cases of young adults in America writing books.

Do you think there is a bias against young people? Are publishers or agents particularly worried about things like plagiarism -- especially after the incident I described above? Do you feel that your age was a factor (be it positive or negative) in your own path to publication?

I'm still young and delusional enough to think that my novel is going to sell and do very well. However the only case I can find of someone under the age of twenty-five who had a big hit was Brett Easton Ellis w/ "Less Than Zero" and later "American Psycho."

When I'm published I will be twenty-seven by only a few days. For the record. I wrote it when I was twenty-five.

In an earlier post I discussed writers in high school and gave some controversial advice about them submitting their writing. I didn't say that they shouldn't write - they should - but they're probably not going to have much success in publication and it's probably for the best.

This advice does not apply when people enter adulthood, which is a different age for everyone, but seems to happen between the ages of 18 and 25. When people become an adult they start writing like one (hopefully), and YA even takes some serious sophistication in thought. So why don't see you see more twenty-something writers?

(1) Generally people are not published on the first novel they write. The industry lore is that it's the third book you submit for publication that is the one that gets published. For me it was true, though I would say that was the ... I don't know, 10th manuscript I'd written. Something like that. And this is not including any writing I did in junior high or high school. Except for the occasional literary genius, writing a novel is a bit like driving: it takes some hours behind the wheel before you're good enough for a license.

(2) Many young authors are published, but in the form of short stories. There's probably two main reasons for this. One, a short story simply isn't as long, so you can get more practice in less time, though I could easily argue that a ten-page short story is as hard to perfect as a full-length novel. Two, most writing workshops (especially at the college and graduate level) are geared towards short stories, so that's what people are going to be encouraged to write.

(3) Many novelists do not report their age on the back cover. You usually have to go look it up somewhere, if it is to be found at all. Just because they haven't announced that they're twenty doesn't mean that they aren't.


windyrdg said...

This is actually a question on another topic, not a comment.

RE: Foreign Sales

It's my understanding that foreign sales can happen in one of two ways:
A) Author retains rights and his/her agent makes a second sale in another country, or
B) Original publisher buys world rights and contracts for publication in another country.

In the first option the author has the potential for a second advance and an income stream unencumbered by the initial advance.

What happens in the second option??

Katherine Hazen said...

Caitlin Kittredge has her first novel coming out in March. She's twenty-something (three or four, I think), there's definitely at least one out there.

Christine Carey said...

That's a bizarre question. Most of the authors I know through LJ are between 25 and 30 and I can think of 2 that published their first at 23.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Paulini who wrote Eragon is another. Eragon was published when he was eighteen.

Elissa M said...

S.E. Hinton, "The Outsiders", still in print. She was, I heard, in her teens when she wrote that, but I could be mistaken. That would be an exception to the rule, of course, but there are always exceptions.

WordVixen said...

Erynn Mangum was published before she turned 20. She's got two books on the market and they're both very funny and relatively well written. She hasn't hit the best seller list, but then her books are published through a Christian publisher. They're still better than most best selling chick lits I've read.

Of course, Christopher Paolini was self pubbed first, but I believe he was picked up by a publisher before he turned 20?

Anonymous said...

I can think of tons of 20-something authors. I don't think it's an issue at all. There's certainly not any sort of bias.

In fact, I think publishers like young, photogenic, talented people. It makes for good media and marketing.

But, the key word here is talent. If you're 16 and you write a brilliant (or very marketable) novel, then you're in good shape. If you're 60, the same applies.

Personally, in my early 40's, I feel like I'm just sort of getting a handle on telling a good story. I've still got a long road ahead of me. Writers mature (as a writer) at very different ages. I'm a late bloomer.

carterbham said...

Just a few examples...

F. Scott Fitzgerald was 26 when he wrote "This Side of Paradise" and 31 when he wrote "The Great Gatsby."

Hemingway was 27 when he wrote "The Sun Also Rises" and 30 when he wrote "A Farewell to Arms."

Or, more recently...

Maxine Swann was 31 when she wrote "The Flower Children."

Jonathan Safran Foer was 25 when he wrote "Everything is Illuminated" and 28 when he wrote "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

Markus Zusak has written 5 books (most recently "The Book Thief") and he's only 32. He's received 2 Printz Honor awards as well.

Anonymous said...

One word: Time.

It's hard to find the time to write. Either you have to work, or you find a way to get enough money that you don't have to work. There's another problem: School. I feel I've wasted twelve years of my life in school. If I could have spent that time writing, I could have been a readily established author before I was seventeen. Take Mozart, for example. Don't forget. He was a writer also. His father brought him up for that very purpose. I wish I had a father like Leopold Mozart. But instead, my poor dumb mother handed me over to the state, and that's why I'm developmentally retarded. The same goes for most of us. If only we had parents who understand the crap they make us do in school, how it slows us down. We too could be geniuses.

Anonymous said...

Correction, carterbham: Old F. Scott was 24 when This Side of Paradise was published. And even he relegated the pain of early success. He was more privileged than the rest of us. And so was that chick who wrote Frankenstein. And Jane Austen.

The Rejecter said...

If only they only taught us what we WANTED to know in school and not what their time-tested knowledge base told them we NEEDED to know. If there's anyone who can say what they need to know, it's a kid. Man, if I made my own curriculum, I wouldn't know long division but I would know how to beat the last undead level of Warcraft 3.

Sorry, X. I assume most of your stuff is rhetorical.

The Rejecter said...

Jane Austen wrote some stuff when she was a kid, but it was pretty bad. She wasn't published until she was 36, but previous drafts of her six famous novels were begun in her twenties, though a lot of the original material was junked by Austen and revised. The stuff beyond her canon of 6 books - her history of England, her juvenilia, Lady Susan - there's a reason those works weren't published while she was alive and aren't read with the same frequency.

Anonymous said...

Alex Garland's THE BEACH was written while in his twenties, I'm pretty sure.

Anonymous said...

Um... yes, Rejecter, "even" YA takes some serious sophistication in thought.

And also a stiff upper lip since so many YA authors have to deal with the bias that "anyone" can write for children.


Anonymous said...

what about those guys who wrote the Rule of Four? That was a pretty big hit.....

Adrienne said...

I know others have said it already, but I'll add to the list. I am under thirty (got a publishing deal just shy of 26, and was published by 27) and I know of several other published/soon to be published authors who are also under 30. And while she wasn't published until her thirties, just thought I should point out that JK Rowling did conceive and began writing the Potter series at 25 as well.

I have never felt any bias in my direction because of my age, except maybe favourably in that I am young and, as we all know, being young in this day and age evidently means everything (even though I am young, I still find that really annoying). Personally I think there is a greater bias towards older writers just starting out (I'm talking people up in their 60s and 70s).

Anonymous said...

You raise a valid argument, Rejecter, and if it's okay, I'll try to explain myself. Use the Mozart example again. Leopold was careful. Instruments were the toys of Wolfgang's childhood. My only exposure to videogames was with friends I met at school. And if Mozart went to the same kinda school I did, there would be no Mozart.

Let me clarify: You wouldn't let a five year old do whatever he wants. But children will do whatever their parents tell them. There are a lot of factors at work. One is this corporate mentality that sucks every minute of free time out of parents lives, and gives them the rest of the day to watch television. Children are neglected. Mozart dies a million deaths.

I don't know about this time-tested knowledge base. The last time I saw a trigonometry problem was when I failed my final during my last week of high school. I'm saying, if you want geniuses, we need a new system. If you want more college professors, tuition costs, mediocre intellectuals, again, college professors, then leave everything the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Anon said...

Um... yes, Rejecter, "even" YA takes some serious sophistication in thought.

I was thinking the same thing. Amazing how one tiny word affects the whole tone of a sentence.

Wonder if John Green, Markus Zusak, Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, K.L. Going, Alex FLinn, Ellen Wittlinger, Meg Rosoff, Wendy Maas, Susan Vaught, Ellen Hopkins, Terry Trueman, Nancy Werlin, Richard Peck and so many more know that YA takes some serious sophistication in thought.

Sorry Rejecter, but you stepped on a whole bunch of toes with this one.

The Rejecter said...

Anon 18:58,

My bad. What I meant to convey was that yes YA isn't any simpler to write than adult fiction, which is something that some people believe.

I changed the sentence around so hopefully that's a little clearer.

Anonymous said...

"When people become an adult they start writing like one (hopefully)"

And then they stop using the word "hopefully" was just too easy :)

Anonymous said...

"My bad. What I meant to convey was that yes YA isn't any simpler to write than adult fiction, which is something that some people believe."

Then what would be simpler?

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about: Bias? I know plenty of authors under the age of 25, some even under 18. You just need to know where to look.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, on the contrary. One of the hard parts about being a young person in publishing is not the lack of other young people, but the sheer number of other young people. It can be tough seeing so many people your age and younger achieve success ahead of you.

I'm 26. I and pretty much all of my writerly friends have done at least some type of professional paid writing, from picture books to novels to comics to magazine articles to newspaper reporting.

Anonymous said...

Amelia Atwater Rhodes should be mentioned as another under-20, though now she's, what, mid-20s?

There are hundreds of young writers out there. I'm sure we outnumber the adults in trying to be published, actually! We're too young to have learned better, after all, and we've all grown up wth easy access to the computers that we write our (often atrocious) novels on. Given exposure and time, of course we churn something decent out every now and again!

Anonymous said...

Isamu Fukui, author of TRUANCY, which is just about to hit bookstores, is now 18, but was 15 when he wrote the book and 16 when he got a book deal.